LABOUR LAWS IN OUR MOTHERLAND IS CHANGING
Author: Sakshee Jaiswal, III year of B.B.A.,LL.B. from Renaissance Law College, Indore
Labour Day is typically and customarily meant to highlight the protection of worker rights. This year, it came at a timeof pandemic when labourers are struggling to survive and more than ever their rights needs protection, which leads to the highlights of the plight of workers todaywhere heart-rending 16 workers died who were sleeping on rail tracks, exhausted during their 700 km walk to home.
Workers are so desperate and frantic. Not only have they lost their meagre or source of income, but now their only options are to risk contracting COVID-19 or facing starvation. To return to their villages, so many of them set out to walk hundreds if not thousands of kilometres, by carrying their few belongings, children on their shoulders and no food in their bellies. Some have alreadyperished on the way. In Karnataka, they were not even being allowed to go back home, forcing the government to quickly take a U- turn, in a controversy that sparked allegations of bonded labour.
The pandemic has highlighted the real working and living conditions of most workers nowadays. The unfolding crisis does make one stop and wonder – after 70 years of independence, how can this be the situation of most Indian workers?
There is no need to present evidence that even before the arrival of the COVID- 19 pandemic the country’s economic, manufacturing and employment sectors were in serious crisis. The factors that were driving the Indian economy into severe crisis is the slow downing in GDP growth, declining industrial production output, rising unemployment, growing liquidity crisis of banks and non-banking financial companies, and rising foreign debt.
The Ministry of Health had a clear understanding of the possibility of the virus spreading to the world, early at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless,at the end of the February the Indian prime minister thought it fit to organize a rally in Ahmedabad to welcome US President Donald Trump. But today it is more important to remember that Gujarat is the fifth worst hit state in India and the state that has refrained from making information on positive coronavirus cases public.
The nationwide lockdown, which was imposed without warning, has created unparalleled distress amongst the working class and since the partition the nation witnessed the largest migration ever. And all of this happened at a period of time when millions of unorganised workers were already facing major crises which resulted the collapse of the informal economy. And also faced severe poverty when the workers returned to their own villages.
Labour Law Amendment
To boost economic growth the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ is a mantra put forward by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And in the line with the growth strategy these institutions demand that countries reform their labour laws. With a view to boosting trade and industry the World Bank Report indicates that 115 countries have revised their labour laws (Doing Business 2020; Comparing Business Regulation in 190 economies, WB Group).
In the whole country the government of India has also amended 44 existing labour laws, defining four labour codes, incorporating anti-worker provisions. Though it is the country with the largest number of workers in the unorganised sector, to raise the minimum wage, these amendments to the law have been passed, completely disregarding the demand. In February 2019 Anoopsatpathi who headed an expert committee had submitted a report to the central government recommending minimum wages of Rs 375 to Rs 447 depending on the region.
However, it is clear that the central government, had no interest in implementing the expert committee recommendations as they purely and solely focused on the ‘Ease of Doing Business’. According to the act called“Minimum Wages Act” of 2019 passed by the central government, the minimum wages on daily basis for a worker is Rs 178; i.e, the monthly wage of a worker is only Rs 4,628! This is a complete and gross rejection of the Supreme Court’s ruling that required a minimum wage increase of 25%.
In the same period it is also important to remember that the increase in prices of food and other consumer products is between 15% and 39%ratrationally. In view of the increase in the Consumer Price Index, the Seventh Pay Commission had recommended to the government that the basic income of workers should be increased from 18,000 to 20,000. This too was not taken into consideration by the government.
As mentioned before, under four Labour Codes: wages, industrial relations, social security and safety, health and working conditions,the Minister of Labour has categorized the provisions of the 44 labour laws. And in the areas of workers’ wages and social security the government has introduced new amendments in favour of the companies.
The new labour codes make the whole and exclusive concept of ‘permanent job’ irrelevant; in result of which they permit employers to hire anyone for a specified period of time and dismiss them with two weeks’ notice. The new amendments, in the workforce which would exclude firms employing fewer than 40 workers, could create great tensions.
For an apprenticeship “The Apprentice Act of 1961” stipulated a period of one year; the amendment of the Act has made it possible for any length of time the employer can employ a person as an apprentice. The government has completely deregulated the labour sector by enacting anti-worker reforms in the Bonus Act of 1965, The Contract Labour (Regulation & Prohibition) Act of 1970, The Payment of Gratuity Act of 1972, and by repealing the Payment of Wages Act 1936, the Minimum Wages Act of 1948 and the Equal Remuneration Act of 1976.
Changes In The Law
The changes in the labour laws will apply to both the existing businesses and the new factories being set up in the state. Similarly, for the next 1000 days the Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat government has also suspended so many labour laws. And these changes are aim to provide some sort of blanket exemption to employers from labour laws.
Few important amendments are:
• Subject to the will of employees, the Employers can increase working hours in factories from 8 to 12 hours and are also allowed up to 72 hours a week in overtime.
• Instead of 30 days, the factory registration now will be done in a day. And the licence should be renewed after 10 years, instead of a year. There is also the provision of penalty for not complying with the deadline on official.
• Industrial Units will be exempted from majority of the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
i) Organisations will be able to keep workers in service at their convenience.
ii) The Labour Department or the labour court will not interfere in the action taken by industries.
iii) Contractors employing less than 50 workers will be able to work without registration under the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.
Major Relaxations To New Industrial Units
• Exempted from provisions on ‘right of workers’, which includes having details of their health and safety at work, to get a better work environment which further includes drinking water, ventilation, crèches, weekly holidays and interval of rest, etc.
• They can change shifts as per their convenience and are exempted from the requirement of keeping registers and inspections.
• In case of violation of labour laws the employers are exempted from penalties.
Rationale Behind The Changes In Labour Laws
• To attract investment and encourage industrial activity our states have begun easing labour laws.
• To protect the existing employment, and to provide employment to workers who have migrated back to their respective states.
• Bring about translucency in the administrative procedures and convert the challenges of a distressed economy into opportunities.
• To increase the revenue of states which have fallen due to closure of industrial units during Covid-19 lockdown.
• For a longer period of time the labour reform has been a demand of Industries. The changes became mandatory as investors were stuck in a web of laws and red-tapism.
• Because of the national lockdown the businesses and economic activities have slowed down which directly or indirectly affects the labour welfare.
The pandemic is changing the face of Indian labour. The lesson that should have been learnt is that because of the adverse living conditions of the majority of our people, the Indiawas unable to cope with the current pandemic. And now, labour laws are being diluted which will make certain guarantees to worsening of living conditions. This will ensure that the country will flounder when the next pandemic comes in the due course. The tragedy which we are facing is that for short term gains of some the India is today headed towards a societal breakdown. But, a basic rethink of any current ruling ideology is always at a heavy cost. As it is once said that laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.